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Corey Tutt on ‘The First Scientists’

Kamilaroi STEM advocate and founder of Deadly Science Corey Tutt is the author of The First Scientists (illus by Blak Douglas, Hardie Grant, October), which explores early and contemporary First Nations peoples’ contribution to the field of science. With illustrations by Blak Douglas, the book is engaging, informative and ‘perfect for budding scientists’ according to reviewer Hannah Gardiner. She speaks to the author.

Your Deadly Science charity provides books and resources to remote schools. What made you take the leap from distributing books to writing them?

I love books—especially the books I send to my Deadly Scientists around the country—but I have searched far and wide for a book that kids can see themselves in and be inspired by. So that’s why I wrote the The First Scientists—because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were Australia’s first scientists. With this book, Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids don’t have to look far for inspiration from our old people past and present.

You’ve previously edited two books under the Deadly Science brand for Australian Geographic. How does the process of writing differ from the process of editing?

Editing is still a writing process but it’s more like putting the puzzle pieces together to create something deadly. My first book growing up was Australian Reptiles in Colour by Harold Cogger; it inspired me, and I hope that these books inspire the next generation of zookeepers and scientists.

The First Scientists is quite different in form and content from the books you have produced with Australian Geographic. What drew you to this subject matter specifically?

When I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time with my pop walking around looking at nature—he knew I had a strong interest in all things wildlife. But my pop, a Kamilaroi man, never got the chance to learn how to read as he was denied equal education. He never complained though and he made sure I knew how to read. I created The First Scientists because my pop (despite not knowing how to read) was an incredible mind—he was so smart and just knew a lot. I wanted to honour him and my ancestors by creating something for the next generation. To me, this book is more than just a book, it’s something I hope brings us all a bit closer together. Science is hope and our people are great scientists still to this day.

With this book you’ve distilled a large amount of technical information into something completely engaging and eminently readable for quite a young age group. How did you approach this task?

It was difficult, and I spoke to many people. This book has bucket loads of passion because I have a strong love for my people and culture. I have been so blessed to know and grow with the communities I’ve worked with and the elders I’ve met along this journey. Every day I do a bit of Deadly Science is a good day. You know that feeling when you catch a big fish or perhaps, if you’re me, you find that blue-tongue lizard in the bush—that’s what I get to feel every day when I do Deadly Science.

The illustrations by Blak Douglas perfectly complement the text and serve only to make the book even more engaging. How did this collaboration come about?

Blak and I met a few years back and I absolutely love him, there isn’t anyone else I would like to do this book with. Art is a form of science. It’s taken me a few years to work that one out, but our people are great artists and chemists—the chemistry to create paints that last for thousands of years is just incredible. The way Blak has taken The First Scientists from a word document on a beaten-up Macbook Pro to this book will inspire the next generation.


Category: Features Interview Junior